In the ongoing quest for equality with men, North American women have been busy closing the gender gap when it comes to wages, child care and education. Now, women are matching men in another, albeit subconscious, way: They are having just as many sexual dreams, according to new research out of the University of Montreal.
Back in 1953, the Kinsey Institute estimated two-thirds of women reported overtly sexual dreams while virtually all men did, findings that were backed up by another study in 1966. The field has been all but, well, dormant, since then.
Assessing 3,500 dream journals kept for two to four weeks by 173 volunteers, psychologist and dream researcher Antonio Zadra found that 45 per cent of men and 41 per cent of women reported one or more sexual dreams involving sexual intercourse, sexual propositions, kissing and fantasies.
"Either it's a real phenomenon that women do dream more about sexual activities than they did 40-some years ago, or they're more comfortable reporting these dreams now, or a combination of both," Dr. Zadra said yesterday.
While this is only a preliminary study and he plans to do more research, Dr. Zadra said examining the substance of those erotic dreams may tell us a lot about the evolution of social roles and attitudes. In dream research, a major tenet is "the continuity hypothesis," in which "some aspects of everyday dream content reflect waking-state concerns, preoccupations and events that people are going through."
And while they're having erotic dreams as frequently as men, the concerns and preoccupations popping up in women's dreams are not the same as men's. (Women are also more interested in taking part in dream research, are more interested in dreams and have better dream recall, he said.)
In some cases, the stereotypical gender roles are reversed. Women were 2½ times more likely to initiate sexual contact than men in dreams. It could be that men are approached more frequently by women in their dreams because they dislike the pressure of making the first move and women wish they could go ahead and make the first move, he said.
The most common male dreams may sound familiar: They are more likely to take place in unknown or public settings and involve unknown characters, strangers or multiple partners. Men never reported their partners had orgasms.
The research, presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Minneapolis, Minn., last week, also found differences based on ages. Study subjects were broken into two groups: students averaging 20 years old and non-students averaging 35 years. Almost all of the erotic dreams involving masturbation by women were reported by women in the older group, for instance.
Dr. Zadra plans to compare his findings with colleagues in sex research, in the hopes of fleshing out this corner of human psychology using dreams as a tool. "Dreams, transparently or with fairly easily understandable metaphors, can depict some of our sexual preoccupations and worries."